by Marcus Swift, NWJP Staff Attorney
Photo by Fair Shot Oregon (via Facebook)
After months of legislative hearings and hours of emotional public testimony, Oregon workers who earn the minimum wage are about to receive a much-deserved raise. The historic increase was approved by lawmakers after lengthy debates in both chambers during the February 2016 session of the Oregon Legislature. The new law was signed by Governor Kate Brown on March 2, 2016.
The plan creates a unique three-tier system across Oregon with annual increases between now and 2022. Workers statewide will see the first increase to $9.50 per hour ($9.25 in rural counties) in July. After that, workers within the Portland Urban Growth Boundary will see a gradual increase to $14.75 by 2022. Over the next six years, workers in middle-tier counties (such Deschutes, Marion, and Lane), will see an eventual increase to $13.50, while workers in the largely rural third-tier counties will see their wages rise to $12.50. Significantly, the plan does not exempt agriculture workers, institute a tip-credit system for servers, or establish a lower training wage for teenagers. This is especially crucial for low-wage workers who are often carved out of the opportunity to earn a living wage.
NWJP was an active participant in the campaign as part of the Raise the Wage and Fair Shot for All coalitions, facilitating testimony from our clients, and coordinating lobby visits. Thanks to the work of these coalitions, and that of committed state lawmakers, low-wage workers, and other advocacy groups, this increase will bring more security and dignity for workers who put in a hard day’s work but still struggle to make ends meet. We also want to mention the terrific grass-roots organizing work of $15 Now, which was crucial in creating the conditions for legislative success.
Contrary to myth, the national average minimum-wage earner is not a teenager living at home, but a 35-year-old woman, usually with a child, and often the sole breadwinner. The minimum wage increase will help bring more Oregon families out of poverty and put more money in their pockets to pay bills and support their local economy.
The three-tier system is the first in the country, and one that, according to a national publication, seems to answer a question many states are currently grappling with: how to address increases in living expenses without hurting rural communities and small towns.